'The Coming Race' and 'Vril-Ya' Bazaar and Fete, in joint aid of The West End Hospital, and the School of Massage and Electricity

6 March 1891

This event is widely regarded as the first sci-fi convention ever held, being a gathering specifically inspired by a science fiction story.
Dr Herbert Tibbits, founder of the London Massage and Galvanic Hospital invited the Marchioness Dowager of Londonderry, the Countess of Cromarty, Lady Georgiana Spencer Churchill and other fashionable people to staff 16 stalls in the arena of the Royal Albert Hall made to represent the city of Vril-ya as described in Lord Lytton's sci-fi book, 'Vril: The Power of The Coming Race'. The book told of an American adventurer who encountered a race of winged, subterranean super-beings known as the Vril-ya. Their power of 'vril' was described as being a force akin to electricity, channelled by special mechanical 'rods', it could be harnessed to almost any goal, either creative or destructive.
The Hall's auditorium was decorated with structures in a style similar to that of ancient Eygpt, Sumperia and India. The stalls seats were decorated with palms, ferns and flowers. In the centre of the arena was the grand Pillar of Vril-ya, modelled on Cleopatra's Needle and decorated with flowers and palm fronds. Mannequins representing the winged Vril-ya flew back and forth above the auditorium. Guests were entertained by musical entertainments, vril-themed magic shows and fortune telling and grand feasts were held each day. Stalls sold handicrafts, paintings, dolls, satin cushions, petticoats, and perfumes. One stall offered the novelty of fishing in an indoor pond. Interestingly another stall sold cups of Bovril (the beef extract) drink, whose brand name was a created from a mix of the words 'Bovine' and 'Vril' - symbolising the vril energy one could gain from it.
Fancy dress was highly encouraged and visitors were advised to visit John Simmons and Sons, historical costumiers to Queen Victoria to view an array of 'Coming Race' costumes. Many visitors donned wings. Committee members of the the bazaar wore a variety of costumes ranging from Japanese, Elizabethan English , mock-Indian and other eclectic styles. The character of Princess Zee, from the novel, was played by a young lady wearing a black satin dress and silver flower tiara that glowed with electric lights.
HRH Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg officially opened the bazaar.
Originally meant to last three days, organisers decided to extend the bazaar by two days. The venture was a financial disaster, due to lack of interest from the public, bankrupting Dr Tibbits as a result. The event was criticised as being badly constructed and shabby and was unable to draw the visitor numbers after the opening day's attendance by Royalty.
Dr Tibbits had previously held an 'Ice Carnival' at the Hall in 1890.

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